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03 Jan 2023
by Tim Brook

4 preventative healthcare steps that can also help the NHS

There are benefits employers can offer to help protect employee heath – and ease the pressure on the health service

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Our beloved NHS is on its knees. More than 7 million people are waiting for treatment, according to the latest figures from the British Medical Association.

People are dying unnecessarily as a result, with oncologists warning the nation is facing a ‘cancer crisis’ due to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

And now, strikes by hard-pressed nurses and ambulance staff are derailing yet more treatment schedules.

As a result, some of those affected by the delays are seeking alternatives.

A new Office for National Statistics report indicates that one in eight adults in the UK has paid for private medical care in the last year due to delays that have left 70% of those on waiting lists waiting for at least six months and 18% waiting for a year or more.

But not everyone can afford private medical care. And not all businesses can afford to offer it as an employee benefit. So, what else can employers do to help reduce the impact of NHS delays on their people?

Flexible benefits that allow employees to prioritise healthcare are one option. But research suggests few people take up health screening, for example, with most preferring cash-based benefits instead – particularly when money is tight.

With the cost-of-living crisis showing no signs of easing, it’s time to focus on an inclusive prevention strategy rather than a cure strategy that gives everyone access to programmes such as health screening.

Employer action can make a difference

In 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care released a paper called Prevention is better than cure. Its key findings included:

  • Early, proactive action by employers can retain and reintegrate those who are struggling with their health or who are off sick
  • Flexible adjustments to the workplace, working hours, or the job itself will help people to thrive in the role
  • The workplace is a great setting for reaching people with messages promoting and encouraging healthy lifestyles – and a healthy workforce is a more productive one.

Protecting health is good for business – and the NHS

A comprehensive health and wellbeing programme says a lot about how seriously a company takes overall employee wellbeing.

Meeting employees’ healthcare needs sets employers apart from their rivals, boosting employee retention rates and improving productivity across the board.

Catching health issues earlier also typically lessens the severity of the diagnosis, hopefully reducing the suffering caused to the employee and the amount of time they need off work.

Later, it may also help to lessen pressure on the NHS thanks to lower rates of so-called lifestyle diseases and conditions prompted by behaviours such as smoking and overeating.

A 4-step plan

1. Promote a healthy work-life balance: current CIPD advice is for all employees to be encouraged to have a good self-care routine including a healthy approach to diet, relaxation and sleep”.

Offering flexible hours and demonstrating that workers should only work the hours they are contracted to do so (most of the time at least) are two ways to do this.

2. Shake up your benefits scheme: focus on areas where the NHS delays are the longest, such as diagnostic tests and screening, and mental health support. When it comes to mental health, for example, you can offer specialist services such as counselling for those going through difficult periods, as well as access to apps that support positive behaviours such as mindfulness.

3. Motivate people to make healthy choices: gamifying elements of your wellbeing strategy via discounted fitness gadgets and wearable devices can help achieve this, while providing data on issues that need addressing, such as high stress levels or poor sleep quality.

Company and team level competitive sporting activities or challenges are also effective – and relatively inexpensive – and have the additional benefit of bringing people together, building team morale and improving engagement.

4. Tailor your benefits communications: the ability to use employee data to define the right time to tell colleagues about different benefits in a joined-up way is one of the biggest advantages offered by benefits technology. By filtering out irrelevant content and framing messages in a way that will resonate with individuals they are designed to help, you can have a real impact on their health and wellbeing.

In partnership with Equiniti

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